“Why are you going to Canberra? It’s so boring there.”
This was the refrain from so many before our last winter girl’s trip to Canberra. Yet after spending three days in our vibrant capital city I can emphatically say they were wrong. We four friends enjoyed beautiful walks, amazing food, took in a myriad of sights and were overawed by the friendliness of the locals. It’s a beautifully clean and safe city… just perfect for a winter getaway. I found it the exact opposite of boring.
We caught an easy direct flight from Brisbane and arrived in the middle of a mildly cool… but still clear and sunny Thursday. The airport was quiet and easy to get around. Finding our hire car we loaded up our bulging suitcases filled with winter coats, beanies, gloves and scarves and headed off to our first destination. During our stay it was wonderful to have our own transport. The streets in Canberra are wide and the parking everywhere was easy.
Canberra is such a spacious, purpose built city that having our own transport meant we could do and see more things, not have to wait out in the cold for taxis and we had somewhere to store our suitcases before checking in and out of our hotel. We caught an Uber only once and used our feet for much of the trip to get around.
Where To Stay
We checked into the modern Art Deco designed – Hotel Realm, which is located across from the Press Club and in the upmarket Realm precinct.The staff were so friendly and rooms were spacious, clean and comfortable. We chose the Girl’s Night In package which included a bottle of Moët, $30 hotel credit and fluffy bathrobes to take home. Each afternoon we’d while away an hour or two sipping bubbles and enjoying room service snacks as we recapped on our wonderful day out.
The hotel has a range of dining options including the fabulous Ostani Bar which has a casual menu in a lush and cosy venue with seating and fireplaces.We loved beginning our days with coffee by the fire and ending our nights there with a cosy nightcap. There is also Buvette Bistro for fine dining and high teas and Lilotang which serves Japanese cuisine. These will warrant further exploration on our next visit.
Highlights Day One
First stop was the reason for our trip, the Shakespeare to Winehouse exhibition, at the National Portrait Gallery. As the Portrait Gallery in London was being renovated, over 80 works were on display in Canberra.It was an exciting exhibition and a rare chance to see many famous pieces. This winter you can visit to see the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2023 or another that I loved the look of, Frocked Up, which demonstrates the interconnectedness of costume and portraiture.
Our favourite in the exhibition we saw was the only surviving portrait of the Brontë sisters. It was painted by their brother, Patrick and still showed signs of the creases from being stored away. Shakespeare’s first ever sitting was on display and a modern, though disquieting piece in blue, showing Amy Winehouse, brought tears to our eyes. The Ed Sheeran portrait was so lifelike it felt like he’d break into song at any minute.
After the museum we enjoyed the indigenous walk and kicking up the beautiful Autumn leaves as we explored the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Fittingly we visited the High Court building on the day of the historic Mabo decision and this brought goosebumps as we entered the hushed court. We had time for a quick stop at the War Memorial. To see the spot where wreaths are laid on Anzac Day brings with it a sense of gratitude and reverence. I will definitely spend more time exploring this space on another trip.
Highlights Day Two
Day Two dawned eerily with Canberra blanketed in fog and a noticeable drop in temperature. We rugged up for a loop walk around Lake Burley Griffin and were astounded by its beauty. With striking sculptures, gorgeous trees and the famous ‘Australian of The Year’ walk we soon forgot the cold.
After a warming breakfast we headed to Parliament House. It’s even more beautiful than I had expected and is a thoughtful and awe inspiring building, just right for our nation’s capital. I loved it. We toured the building, visited the House of Representatives, browsed portraits of Prime Minister’s past and present and revelled in exploring this iconic structure. Unfortunately the Senate rooms were being renovated on our visit but I can’t wait to go back and explore them too.
After a quick stop at The Mint and the Australian National Archives we drove around the fascinating Embassy Way. Each Embassy is unique in that it celebrates the architecture of its home country. A smaller version of the White House has prime position atop a hill. The Japanese Embassy is in a Japanese temple style and my favourite, South Africa, shares the whitewashed Capetown style I’ve seen plenty of in Stellenbosch. We loved this drive and it reminded me of a Disney Small World display, on a much grander scale. Really worth a look!
Next up was the beautiful National Arboretum Canberra, high on a hill, with views for miles. This special space grows a variety of plants from around the world. It spans 250 hectares with 100 forests and 100 gardens focussing on threatened, rare and symbolic trees. It also hosts a calming Bonsai House. There are trail walks to do and beautiful sculptures dotted throughout the landscape. It was too late to stay on and sip a glass of wine at the restaurant, but is one to file away for my next trip. We shopped up a storm in the lovely gift shop instead.
Highlights Day Three
One of my biggest recommendations is to spend the day at Old Parliament House. There is an hilarious political cartoon display as you walk through the halls. You could spend hours looking at these. Check out the Prime Minister’s office, which is a step back in time to the days of Bob Hawke. There is a letter room where I wrote a letter to my husband and it actually arrived at our home. You won’t believe the total rabbit warren of interesting office spaces. See the old House of Representatives and Senate where history seems to ooze from every seat. It’s a lovely welcoming space which reminds Australians and tourists alike of our humble beginnings.
Lastly we had to go and see Blue Poles and the famous works in the National Gallery of Australia. The gallery contains works by our famous artists: Arthur Streeton , Sidney Nolan, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin. There are European masterpieces, the glorious sculpture garden and I particularly loved the display of wearable art from Romance Was Born and Jenny Kee. There’s a huge collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art and Eastern Art all housed in this beautiful grand space. You could easily visit again and again.
Where To Eat
Canberra is a foodie paradise these days. We had done our research and asked friends for recommendations and our first night’s dinner was a 7 course degustation at Pilot. Pilot is a small 30 seater in the suburb of Ainslie. It is not a la carte. Guests dine on the ever changing Pilot menu which is a selection of nostalgic flavours, complex dishes and produce the chefs are excited by. The menu is ever changing.
On our visit we started with a Pilot tea and then moved onto pizza pockets, cabbage money bags and a caramelised carrot swirl. Sourdough and tsukune was followed by ageddashi tofu. Mains were sichuan cold duck with Grandma style butternut and a hippy salad. Our two sweets were an artichoke ice cream sandwich and mando and pumpkin. All courses were inventive and super delicious. One to definitely visit if you don’t mind being surprised.
Our second night’s dining was by the shores of Lake Burley Griffin at classic restaurant– The Boat Shed. This time it was a four – course degustation, but with this one there was a menu and a choice of options. All were mouth watering choices, making it difficult to decide.
Everyone enjoyed the braised short ribs for first course. I then followed with a meltingly good apple glazed pork, pear, parsley and radish before a slow cooked lamb rump with eggplant, freekeh and pepper berry jus. All were sensational but the highlight for me was the dessert– lemon myrtle meringue with aniseed, wattle seed sable and lemon curd. It reminded me of one of the most favourite desserts I’ve ever eaten in Paris, but better, due to the inclusion of uniquely Australian flavours.
After our chilly morning walk we’d breakfasted at the hip Mocan and Green Grout. A favourite haunt of students from the nearby campus, it’s a cosy lodge style space in which to start the day. Here I enjoyed delicious baked eggs with goat cheese and top notch coffee. In fact every single coffee we tried in Canberra was delightful. Who knew that Canberra was a coffee lover’s paradise?
Another highly recommended activity was High Tea at the historic Hyatt Hotel. Step back in time to enjoy a range of scrumptious sweet and savoury goodies in the heritage – listed Tea Lounge. We enjoyed a glass of Mumm, a range of teas and good coffees. We then explored the historic hotel which was abuzz with weekend parties and weddings. Other recommendations from the locals for dinner were the Japanese restaurant, Raku and the trendy Monster.
As we sped down slip roads to the airport we once again admired the foliage, the many beautiful statues lining the wide avenues and the gorgeous architecture.We drove past The Lodge and had a sneak peek at the Governor General’s House. We had really packed so much into our three days, including lots of laughs and chatter. As we stepped out at the airport the air had a hint of snow and sure enough it snowed the day after we left. We had timed our mini break perfectly.
If, like me, Canberra is on your bucket list I urge you to go and visit for yourself. Don’t be put off by boring memories of your Year Seven Trip. I love a city break full of history, art and nostalgia but with all the modern comforts: good coffee, great meals, pretty walks and friendly locals. Canberra has all this and more and is just a short trip from most Australian cities. So if you’re not ready to travel overseas this winter why not holiday in Canberra. You won’t have a minute to be bored. I promise!
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).